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Phone-hacking: New York Times won’t co-operate with police

The New York Times has refused to co-operate with British police looking into allegations of phone-hacking made by the newspaper last week, a senior officer said yesterday.

But Assistant Commissioner John Yates said the Metropolitan Police will press ahead with questioning former reporter Sean Hoare and consulting with prosecutors over whether to reopen its investigation into the News of the World.

In interviews with the NYT and the BBC, Mr Hoare claimed that eavesdropping on voicemail messages was widespread at the News of the World and known to then editor Andy Coulson, now Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications.

His claims are denied by both the News International-owned newspaper and Mr Coulson himself, who has offered to speak to police.

In an appearance before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee yesterday, Mr Yates said he expected to see Mr Coulson “at some stage”, but would not decide whether to take up his offer until after Mr Hoare was interviewed.</>\[Clare Palmer\]Officers wrote today to the NYT asking the US paper to reconsider its decision not to hand over information, citing “journalistic privilege”, but Mr Yates said he was “not hopeful”.

It was an article in the New York paper which revived the phone-hacking issue last week, three years after News of the World reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for illegally intercepting the voicemail messages of Princes William and Harry.

Mr Yates today came under fierce questioning from MPs on the select committee over the police's decision not to contact some 91 people - believed to include politicians and celebrities - whose voicemail PINs were discovered during the investigations into Goodman and Mulcaire.

He said that police or mobile phone service providers had contacted around 10 to 12 people in cases where they thought there was “the minutest possibility” that an attempt had been made to hack into their messages.

The assistant commissioner promised to speak to Labour MP Chris Bryant, who yesterday complained in the Commons chamber that he had been told he was on Mulcaire's list, but police had done “absolutely nothing” about it.

Mr Yates defended the initial police inquiry, telling MPs: “You may not believe it but I still think the investigation was a success, and if HMI (the Inspector of Constabulary) wants to come and have a look at it, I wouldn't have a problem at all.”

The jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire had sent out a “very significant deterrent message” and the case had clarified the law relating to interception of communications, he said.

Mr Yates acknowledged that there had been cases of police officers taking payments from newspapers for information, but said he regarded it as “reprehensible” and insisted it was not widespread.

Mr Yates repeated his assurance that former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott's mobile phone had not been hacked into and said there was no evidence that any MP's phone had been tapped.

It was a “dangerous assumption” to believe that any particular individual named on lists seized during the police investigation was necessarily the victim of eavesdropping, he warned MPs.

Phone-hacking was very narrowly defined in legislation and was “very, very difficult to prove”, he said.

Leading counsel had advised police that obtaining a PIN without the owner's permission was not in itself a crime, said Mr Yates.

But committee chairman Keith Vaz told him that this would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

He urged him to contact all those whose details were found on Mulcaire's lists: “They are the victims of crime in the same way as if someone's bank account has been hacked into. You would write to those people and inform them.”

Mr Vaz added: “I think it is the feeling of this committee that there are some questions which remain to be answered.”

Mr Yates stressed that it had not yet been decided whether to mount a fresh investigation in the light of Mr Hoare's allegations, which he said “came out of left field” as he had already left the paper before the Goodman case.

“We have always said we would consider new material,” he said. “In terms of Sean Hoare, that is new material and of course we will be seeing him at some stage in the near future.

“We will consider what he has to say and then consider the necessity of speaking to Mr Coulson, but at some stage I think we will be seeing Mr Coulson.

“We have spoken to the New York Times... and they have already indicated that they are not prepared to help us on the basis that it is journalistic privilege.

“I understand that, but a colleague has written to them today to see whether they are prepared to waive that privilege in these exceptional circumstances. I am not hopeful.”

He added: “If new material equals new evidence and warrants a new investigation, that is what we will do. I am absolutely clear about that.

“I would say we are considering new material and we will work with the Crown Prosecution Service to see if there are potential lines of inquiry that can be followed up and would be a proper use of our resources.

“Mr Hoare has made some very serious allegations, both in print and on the radio and we need to speak to him.”

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